2010 Holiday Reading List Day One X-Men: Curse of the Mutants

Posted by under *mixed, Comics |

X-Men #6 (Volume 3) arrived in late December concluding the Curse of the Mutants (X-Men versus Vampires) storyline, and this is a good point to discuss the new series by Victor Gischler and Paco Medina. I fell far behind in reading this series as it published and I had to catch up on nearly every issue today. Apparently, I didn’t even make it all the way through issue #2 when it first shipped! I’ve been a huge X-Men fan most of my life and have been reading for decades. Falling behind like that says a lot about this book and my feelings regarding it.

Spoilers ahead.

When this series launched it seemed clear that it didn’t have the foundation, justification or creative team to merit its publication and nothing in the first six issues has changed my feelings. It’s fun, but it’s clearly just trying to capitalize on the Twilight/vampire craze with the first arc. The connection that’s pointed out between mutants and vampires both being hated and feared by humanity provides some in story justification, but the whole thing feels forced.

The basis for the first arc seems solely to get to Vampire Wolverine. Even the villains come right out and state that this is their plan (and to eventually convert all the other mutants to strengthen the Vampire Nation, but he’s the first target). There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but it’s a flimsy premise for a 6-issue arc to launch a new series. It’s a story that would have been fine within the pages of an existing title (not that I would have preferred it in place of any of the stories in the current X-titles) and didn’t need all the launch hype. A new X-Men title deserves better. There are some cool concepts (a telepathic virus, a variety of vampire sects, and a fun strategic chess match between Cyclops and Xarus), but the publishing context isn’t the best.

Obviously the change to a Vampire Wolverine isn’t something that’s going to last or even be acknowledged outside of this title, but we are left with the intriguing prospects of Vampire Jubilee. Unfortunately, this is a character that current creators at Marvel don’t seem committed to doing good and lasting things with (see the miserable New Warriors relaunch after Civil War). I can only hope that Victor Gischler has something in mind going forward with this change because it’s a tough one to come back from. A long term plan here might also help justify a new X-Men title.

Artistically this first arc was well put together. Cover artist Adi Granov turned in a fine set of covers for this series, particularly the iconic team shot on issue #1 and a terrifying vampiric Wolverine image on issue #4 (though none of them hold up to his work on Second Coming). Granov’s covers are a stark contract to Paco Medina’s somewhat cartoonish interiors. His work here is similar to Terry Dodson’s and is fairly solid throughout these six issues, but it’s not a style I particularly enjoy. I can say that there are panels and page that really shine.

Marvel pushed this series and storyline so hard that there were also four tie-in books between issue #2 and #3 and this was the main reason I fell behind. I just couldn’t bring myself to get through them. None of them were necessary, although they were enjoyable for their own reasons. Overall, I appreciated the editorial coordination, but these books didn’t add anything critical to the story.

  • Namor #1 – This was the launch of a new ongoing series for Marvel’s first mutant featuring Namor vs. Atlantean vampires (the Aqueos). The story comes directly out of X-Men #2 as Namor searches for the severed head of Dracula, and his mission is accomplished in issue one. A war between the two mer-populations stems from these events in subsequent issues and while writer Stuart Moore really sells the mystery of the Aqueos, I won’t be back for more. The book features a great Jae Lee cover and interior art by Ariel Olivetti who isn’t’ for everyone, but I enjoyed his work on Cable.
  • Blade #1 – Duane Swierczynski does a decent job introducing (or maybe even reintroducing) a bunch of vampire hunters that assist Blade in trying to take down Dracula’s son Xarus in the American Southwest. They’re all killed in issue one, but Blade escapes after figuring out the vampire agenda to convert mutants to strengthen themselves in their bid to take over the world. At the conclusion Blade heads to San Francisco, leading right into his appearance X-Men #2. This may tie in to the Captain Britain and MI13 story that involved Dracula and Blade, but it does little in the context of Curse of the Mutants. Artist Tim Green employs an interesting style, but its heavy line and figure composition aren’t something I’d seek out.
  • X-Men: Smoke and Blood #1 – I love the X-Club science team and this is a fun story about their study of a live vampire specimen and efforts to understand the virus they used to attract followers in X-Men #1. Simon Spurrier’s ending is a little confusing and verges on amounting to “they’re magic” but that’s an explanation Dr. Nemesis just won’t abide. The book sports a Great Clayton Crain cover with very stylized interiors by Gabriel Hernandez Walta. I’m not sure I needed so many panels of talking heads, but the characters looked great the first time we saw them. Unfortunately the panels just didn’t change enough and started to almost look repetitive. All in all a cool book and worth checking out.
  • Storm and Gambit – Easily the best of the bunch, this one-shot is well written by Chuck Kim (who I’m not at all familiar with) with interior art by Chris Bachalo. I don’t know why they made his cover a variant since the regular cover by Mico Suayan and Christina Strain was nothing special to me. Storm being paired with Gambit harkens back to his first appearance, and it’s nice to see the characters interact again. The X-Men’s team of thieves’ mission is to recover Dracula’s body, but the trial they go through is something that might actually have lasting repercussions, particularly for Storm. This is the only book across Curse of the Mutants to feature Dracula’s first son Janus, who I honestly expected to have a larger role.

Overall, I’m glad that it’s over. I know they were fighting vampires, but the series may have actually been a little too violent with all of the heads that rolled. I’m definitely looking forward to guest star Spider-Man this month (in part for the awesome Bachalo Sgt. Pepper’s cover) and the start of a new story. Curse of the Mutants was a slightly underwhelming start to a new X-Men series, but there were things to enjoy: Iceman blessed as holy water, the X-Club getting a chance to shine in another title, Blade being used in a meaningful context, and lots of twists and turns.

Marvel has promised more from their vampire characters in 2011 and the Death of Dracula a few months ago was honestly a good start. It brought all of their published history together with new concepts. My fear after seeing the outcome of this arc is that we’re en route to a team of teenage vampire super heroes getting their own title to capitalize on the popularity of Twilight. The magic medallions we saw here give them the power to walk in broad daylight, even if they don’t sparkle.

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